Start Believing: Wenger’s bold prediction, Roma’s European heartbreak & Uganda’s lucky charm

Arsenal’s unbeaten season, Liverpool’s continental triumph and an unorthodox mascot feature in the latest in our series chronicling the extraordinary power of belief

Roll up, roll up, for Mystic Arsene and his predictive powers

In September 2002, following a 4-1 mauling of Leeds United and amidst much guffawing from rival managers and the media, Arsene Wenger told journalists: “I am hopeful that we can go through the season unbeaten – a frightening thought.” A Wayne Rooney winner for Everton at Goodison Park in October ended any chance of the Gunners achieving such a feat and Manchester United ground them down in the title race, but the Arsenal boss insisted his team could avoid losing even once during the following campaign. Astonishingly, they did just that, emulating Preston’s Invincibles of the 19th century.

The curse of Grobbelaar’s wobbly legs

Nils Liedholm, Swedish coach of Roma in the early 1980s, was hugely superstitious. So much so, he would frequently consult a mysterious magician/astrologer-type figure known as il Mago Maggi. In 1984, with the Italian champions preparing for their European Cup final against Liverpool, Liedholm asked Maggi for a bit of tactical advice. “Don’t let Francesco Graziani take a penalty,” the wise Maggi warned him. When Graziani found out, he laughed it off. The game, of course, went to penalties and it was Graziani who had to face Bruce Grobbelaar’s wobbly legs routine. He promptly blasted his shot over the bar, and Liverpool went on to win 4-2.

Grobbelaar celebrates after the European Cup triumph – following Graziani’s missed penalty

The Prime Ministerial mascot

It was simple. If Uganda were playing at the Nakivubo Stadium in the early 1990s, invite Prime Minister George Cosmas Adyebo along to watch, and the national team was sure to win. He was the ultimate lucky charm, witnessing the team defeat deadly rivals Tanzania in an African Cup of Nations qualifier and Mozambique in an Olympic qualifier. Loud and animated in the stands, Adyebo doubted his apparent magic powers, claiming: “I’m not a magician, and it’s just a matter of coincidence.” Nonsense. When he stopped attending games due to illness in the late 1990s, the Cranes’ fortunes plummeted without their talisman. “We miss our saviour,” wailed Uganda’s skipper.

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